Weekday Reading: Now with More Kelly Link!
Kelly Link has begun writing again!
Two new stories: Valley of the Girls
Also: Brian Francis Slattery released the soundtrack album for his brilliant novel Liberation.
AND! SPEAKING OF! Have you seen the event I hosted with music by Brian at ReaderCon, where there were readings by Myke Cole, Jeffrey Ford, Scott Edelman, Theodora Goss, John Kessel and Matthew Cheney? No? Well, have a watch:
This event was part of the Wold Newton Reading Extravaganza, which is usually hosted in Brooklyn.
The world as I see it in pieces: Part 1
I don't see much point in psychedelic drugs anymore. We are now living in the future and hyperreality has taken such firm root that we now appear to be models of models that never existed in the first place that were themselves reflections of shadows of an irreal void-space and that likewise have been completely consumed before they could be produced. In such a world, why bother cooking acid and possibly going to jail for buying it and taking it, let alone the tedious process of hanging out with all the hippy drug-culture people that a serious psychonaut has to spend time with to get the tools of the trade, when you can blow off the back of your skull and get yourself twisted as far down the rabbit hole as you're willing to go just by watching CNN?
The ReaderCon 2011 Interviews
Once again I interviewed many wonderful people at ReaderCon, though I aimed for fewer interviews with more in depth questions this time. Click "Read More" for video interviews with Junot Diaz, Samuel R. Delany, Barry Malzberg, John Clute, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman and Neil Clarke!
ReaderCon was amazing; stay tuned for new interviews with Neil Gaiman, Samuel Delany, Junot Diaz and more as well as footage of the Wold Newton event!
Ahem, is this thing on? Testing? One, Two, Three?
As the world teeters on the brink of true stupidity, I would just like to take one moment to state once more from my little soap box that seriously folks, the federal budget deficit is not a fucking problem right now.
On Liberty and Civil Society
As far as I've been able to tell from my reading of various right wing political critiques of late, the fundamental fear of socialist policies seems to stem from a concern that socialist policies are a curtailment of liberties. The placards and talking points of the right seem to hover around this idea of loss of liberty and for me, as a socialist, I find that very confusing. The easy answer of course is one I suggested in a previous post, that this stems from false consciousness. That's easy, but on reflection I think it isn't the whole picture. To be sure, there's an element of being misled by ideology in the tea party movement, and there is definitely an aspect of manipulation in the various astroturf groups that have worked to organize people who are involved with the tea party movement. But that doesn't explain all of it. Because for any of that to work, there has to be a fundamental, basic fear that's being tapped into and manipulated, and more to the point I do believe that there are honest, intelligent people who support this right wing movement who are not being manipulated but who genuinely see in socialist policy a threat to liberty. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that in a sense, there is something true about the critique. There is an element to socialism that is a curtailment of liberty. But what sound bite politics of the moment miss is that liberty is such a loaded term that when one speaks broadly about liberty, then one actually says very little at all.
Solaris Finally Translated Directly into English
As is being reported in The Literary Saloon and Mumpsimus, Stanisław Lem's great novel Solaris has been translated from the original Polish into English for (shockingly) the first time. The existing edition is translated from Polish into French into English.
Apparently, because of rights issues, this new version is currently only available as an audiobook, though they plan on releasing an ebook and "hopefully" a print edition. Not sure what the deal is with the rights for this book or why the rights holders haven't bothered with a proper translation in the 50 years since the book came out, but someone should be deeply ashamed.
Short Reviews of Books I've Read Recently
The Fabulous Riverboat by Philip José Farmer (1971)
This book pretty much represents everything that is both good and bad about Philip José Farmer. On the one hand, it is full of wondrous ideas; it's the second volume of his RiverWorld series in which every human who has ever lived wakes up on an enormous river, and it's about Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) trying to build a boat to go up the river and find its source. He is aided by a giant proto-human, Odysseus, and Cyrano De Bergerac (who has, incidentally, shacked up with Clemens' wife) and fights against King John of England, Ieyasu of Japan and the Nazi Hermann Goring, who has joined a cult of pacifists. It's a wild book, full of antics, mayhem and crazy ideas, though it could probably lose a few scenes where the characters sit around talking about RiverWorld politics or in which Clemens gets all emo about Bergerac and his wife. Its main problems, however, are Farmer's lazy and clumsy prose style, which he seems to have inherited from his beloved 30's pulp fiction, and the constant repetition of things that are going on and that we already know, which probably stems from the book's original serialized form and should have been excised when it was collected. Still, a very fun book, and representative of the maturing and development of adventure fiction in the early seventies, when the full effects of the New Wave were just starting to be felt with their increased sensitivity to race, gender, sex (a subject in which Farmer was a pioneer in SF) and non-European cultural traditions.
Nova Swing by M. John Harrison (2006)
M. John Harrison on the other hand, is one of the great prose stylists and Nova Swing, stand-alone sequel to his triumphant Light, is a beautiful, marvelous book about people living on planet where a Roadside Picnic-like zone of weirdness distorts reality and dispenses, for no apparent reason, lots of black and white cats. The main character, Vic Serotonin (following the CyberPunk tradition of character naming which includes Johnny Mnemonic and Hiro Protagonist) functions as a tour guide through the zone, and the book is primarily concerned with how people try to live their ordinary lives in a world in which nothing can be relied on, in which reality itself might fall away from you. I already linked to a particularly moving paragraph from the novel that I singled out on my writing blog.
The Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks (1990)
This is probably the best "Space Opera" novel I've ever read. It's the story of an old mercenary who's is called back by his old masters in the Culture (a society of frighteningly powerful future humans ruled by a caste of AI, and the subject of many books by Banks) to perform one last, terrible job for them. This story is interspersed with chapters about the character's life, moving chronologically backwards, with each chapter illuminating some aspect of his history and character relevant to the forward-moving story in a way reminiscent of what was later done on the TV show Lost. Unlike that show, however, The Use of Weapons' ending is incredibly satisfying, forcing you to reevaluate everything you've just read in a new light, and Banks handles the tricky structure and staggered revelations with impressive deftness.
The Third Bear by Jeff VanderMeer (2010)
VanderMeer's latest collection of short fiction shows an ever-increasing maturity both in subject matter and in technical skill and I think this may be his best book so far. The novella "The Situation" is some kind of masterpiece for the way it disembowels life in the corporate world and transforms an office building into a strange and terrifying universe. The shocking thing about a story as good as that, however, is that it is shadowed by the novella "Errata", which is reminiscent of Borges and full of weirdness and metatextual deconstruction of the act of creation. The title story — which can be read here — is as haunting a version of a Germanic-style faerie tale as your likely to find. Really, there isn't a bad story in here, and the best of them easily rank among the best I've read in years.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1817)
Frankenstein is a book I've tried to read several times but, despite its short length, could never get through. There reasons are the ponderous asides about man and nature, the lunatic stupidity of Victor Frankenstein and his endlessly wearying emo whining about how terrible his life has become. One can't help but conclude if he'd just been nice to the monster from the start they would have gotten along splendidly, and it's only because the monster was treated like crap by his creator (as the monster himself declaims) does the creature go around murdering all his friends and family. The monster himself is wonderful, a tragic byronic hero full of tortured soul and maddening passions, but Victor is completely unsympathetic, and I just kind of wanted to punch him in the face. One's tempted to chalk these problems up to the Gothic style of the period, but I don't remember having this kind of reaction to the Gothic novel of Shelley's father, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, a book which I'd loved, and reading Frankenstein was spurred by a renewed interest in this period. I plan to read some more Gothic works, specifically The Castle of Otranto, Vathek and maybe The Mysteries of Udolpho and see how they compare.
On Ebook Piracy
Had a long argument recently with a writer who was upset about how her books have been pirated as her sales have gone down. She went so far as to say that she thought every ebook should come with a virus that was only removed after you paid for it, a solution that would be at once disastrous and completely ineffective for its intended purpose.
For me, the question of piracy comes down to this: you can't stop piracy. You have a product that is infinitely reproducible at virtually zero cost. You can't fight that. And if you try, you're just going to end up frustrated and angry (like the writer I talked to).
So the problem really is: how can you take advantage of piracy, and how can you make money in spite of piracy? And those are the questions that need to be asked.
Memorial Weekend Mostly-Fiction Reading
My goodness, it's been a while since we put something on the site. Obviously, we've been busy little beavers out here in bloggy land.
So, to keep you all busy, here's a lot of great fiction that's been published recently for you to read for free!
The absolute best short story I've read recently is Karen Joy Fowler's "Younger Women", which is as cunning a send-up of Twilight as you're likely to find, but also a great work in its own right.
Tor.com has continued to provide some of the best short fiction on the web. One of the more memorable stories is "The Fermi Paradox is Our Business Model" by Charlie Jane Anders which is takes the old trope of humans being seeded on Earth by aliens and turns it on its head in a way that's endlessly amusing.
This past Wednesday they published another story I enjoyed a lot, "Time Considered as a Series of Thermite Burns in No Particular Order" by Damien Broderick, which is a time travel story that is less about the traveling through time and more about the toll it takes on the traveller (and, it should be noted, has a sweet ass title).
Fantasy Magazine published "Choose Your Own Adventure" by Kat Howard which takes the concept of the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story and plays with its inherent absurdities; the limitation of choices, the temptation to turn back and try a different path, the sense that the story is still guiding your actions rather despite the form's promise of interactivity.
M. John Harrison is kind of a writer's writer; he's stunningly good but doesn't seem to write with the kind of popular hooks that would turn him into a major (financial) success, and his identification with the SF ghetto probably doesn't help him get any recognition from the literati for his elegant prose, impeccable character insight and Borgesian explorations of the fantastic. Here is a short-short he wrote called "The Walls", apparently written originally to be read on stage, which encapsulates in brief form what it is that makes Harrison so good.
Relatedly, here's a paragraph from his novel Nova Swing which I transcribed on my writing blog after it took my breath away.
And now, Non-Fiction Time!
I've been saying for a while that publisher's claims that it costs as much to make an ebook as to make a print book are bullshit, and that if they want to prove it to us they should show us the numbers already. (Which they won't.) Blog Brad's Reader caught out a Simon and Shuster CEO saying that ebooks are profitable because the costs are so low. (via Teleread)
Wet Asphalt favorite Matt Cheney reviews Evaporating Genres by Gary K. Wolfe on Strange Horizons and talks about the difference between reviews and criticism w/r/t one of the leading
critics reviewers of SF.
And finally, Robert Shawn talks about why he is a socialist, in one of the best defenses of the ideology you're likely to find and one that makes the more Libertarian tendencies in America look bankrupt and shallow.
And if all that STILL isn't enough for you, Richard and Wendy Pini have put EVERY ISSUE (over 6,500 pages) of their seminal fantasy comic book Elfquest online FOR FREE.
Enjoy and have a happy Memorial Day!